I Ask

I’ve had to stop myself from becoming jaded to the allegations of sexual misconduct that pop up everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It’s almost too much to take in and it can make your mind weary. The court of public opinion (which seems like the only one that matters) has been loud and from what I can tell it’s a hung jury. But one thing I know……this behavior is nothing new….and we as a country have too often condoned it and silenced voices.

Thinking about this lately has taken me back to high school, when I was a state officer for the Future Business Leaders of America. We had to undergo all kinds of training on manners, and dealing with people in positions of authority, and how to handle ourselves in social situations. One session seemed to come out of the blue. At least to this naive girl. We were about to go to a large reception full of corporate people and politicians and our advisor gave the girls instruction on how to deal with hands-y men. Looking back I suspect that this came up because she was a bold woman who kept her eyes open and didn’t think that because someone wore a nice suit and gave money to high school programs, it meant they had pure motives. If one of these “gentlemen” came up to us and put his arm around us and didn’t immediately drop it, we were supposed to drop our hands down and step back….pushing off his back a bit if necessary.  A simple move that showed me I had power in these situations….and that if things made me uncomfortable it was not OK. Yes, possibly we were taught to be a bit too polite in handling it. But it was the first time it was confronted in my life. I found it worked, and for me it reinforced that I was in charge of my body and was not a powerless girl. (Most who know me realize that I would not have remained polite had the uncomfortable behavior continued. I wouldn’t have minded causing a scene.)

I’ve never been the overly sensitive type, and have usually been seen as someone who can hold her own, so truly I have not suffered much over the years with those handsy types and unwanted advances. Yes, they happened. Normally I dealt with it with humor and physically putting up distance and a loud and commanding voice. It has been more of a gnat on life for me than anything else. I know that just makes me lucky.

But I have way too many girlfriends who have suffered abuse. The number who have been molested and raped is staggering. In my sheltered world, these things just didn’t happen….until someone confided in me for the first time in college and I knew it was true. And then another did. And another. I have now lost count on the number of stories I have heard. I am sure that with as many who have shared their story with me, most have not. Many will never tell.

Of those who have told me their stories, some were naive, others simply duped. Some were highly intoxicated. Some downright attacked. Most of the stories would bring tears to your eyes if you heard them tell them. Most….yes most…..never prosecuted. There were various reasons why. Fear is a big one. Not just fear of the perpetrator ….though that sometimes existed….but fear of our legal system. Fear that they would be judged by a jury of their peers. Yeah I recognize they are not on trial, but we put them there, don’t we?And how do we not? We have to judge them as credible. So they are judged due to their wardrobe, their lifestyle, their behavior, the reputation of the perpetrator (because nice guys don’t do these things, do they?), their attractiveness (or lack thereof), the attractiveness of their perpetrator (because handsome guys don’t rape ugly girls, now, do they?), whether they drank that night and if so, how much. Read through the comments in almost any internet post about any person these days. Would you be comfortable having your lives judged by them?

I’ve told the story before of working in a children’s home as a housemother at age 21…..the girls I worked with were 14-18. About 90% of the girls had been sexually abused. Usually by their fathers, but sometimes by another family member or a neighbor. I remember a 15-year old, who had been abused by her much older neighbor, crying in my arms after the verdict in her trial was announced. He was pronounced guilty…..and his sentence was three years in jail. She said “He’s going to find me and do it again.” And this is another fear. You go against him, he comes back after you. When you know the violent side, how can you not fear? I tried to reassure her he would never hurt her again, but how could I know? How could I really promise her safety?

Another story from the chikdren’s home. A 15-year old boy walked in on his father molesting his 14-year old sister. Kudos to the kid….he beat the father up and called 911. His mother said it never happened and took the side of her husband. The daughter? Her feelings were complicated and confused. Yes, she agreed her father did it. But she thought it was wrong that he was in jail and she didn’t get to see him. Sometimes she resented her brother for breaking up the family. He was left pretty confused himself. It was heartbreaking.

Yes people are sometimes wrongly accused. I have known these people, too. It infuriates he, but I won’t say much about it now other than this…..you who falsely accuse people not only hurt your victim (sometimes for life because of that jury of public opinion), but you impact every person who comes forward to tell their truth. You put more doubt into the ears of those who hear the truth of others, because you lied. You are a match to kindling.

The thing about my friends who have been sexually abused….they are normal people. They are our friends. They are our family. Yes they carry scars, but many hide them well. But they are all around you. Some have done a lot of work to heal…..others still walk around in constant pain. Be kind. Be aware that you may not know everyone’s story and it may be the reason you don’t understand.

Today marks the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year’s theme is I Ask (for consent.) Seems like something that would be natural, doesn’t it? But so often it isn’t. Let’s encourage open discussions instead of assumptions, encourage people to know the judgment of their partner is not impaired when they make sexual decisions and that they understand the concept of age of consent. Let’s reinforce that both sexes have the right to say “No” or “Not now” and have that respected. Be someone who asks….someone who respects….and someone who understands when someone is not able to give consent.

Some statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center:

  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator
  • Eight percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work
  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old 
  • 12.3% of women were age 10 or younger at the time of their first completed rape victimization
  • 27.8% of men were age 10 or younger at the time of their first completed rape victimization
  • 20% – 25% of college women and 15% of college men are victims of forced sex during their time in college
  • More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault

See why we need to pay attention? Don’t let yourself stay in the dark.

Victims, know that people do care. Know there are people to help you if you are suffering. Tell your stories, when you are able.

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Jobless – Part 3

Trajectories aren’t linear. Life’s just a roller coaster. If you’re getting a chance to do cool stuff, and it’s varied stuff, just enjoy it. I guess I’m a believer in the randomness of life rather than it being a linear trajectory or an arc, a consistent smooth arc, towards anything.” – Riz Ahmed

“Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness. In one of those life-isn’t-fair results, it turns out that the happy outperform the less happy. Happy people work more hours each week – and they work more in their free time, too.” – Gretchen Rubin

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

It’s a rollercoaster. A sometimes scary one. OK…..I admit I am having more fun than many would have in my situation and most of the time I’m enjoying this time in my life. I’ve always liked roller coasters. Well, except for the ones that beat up your body along the way. But while most is fine with me, then there are the moments of sheer panic when I think “What if I can’t find a job?”

We’ve already established I am crazy analytical, skills developed by being anxious by nature but not a fan of that particular state of mind. Equilibrium is important to me, so I have learned to quickly look at worse case scenarios and find the truth in them. And the humor. I know I can get by at my current state of living at least through the year. I also know I can reduce my expenses and get by longer. I could actually never have another job and be OK living a crazy vagabond life. But I want to work. I like the purpose it brings to my life. And I enjoy my current life, so don’t have strong desire for major changes.

One of my severance benefits is the use of executive career counselors for six months. I wasn’t sure how helpful that would be, but I suspect it is as helpful as you make it. I had my first “counseling” session last week (I had already made my way through the sessions with their branding expert), and was pleasantly surprised at how helpful it was. It had been a particularly frustrating week, where I got rejections for jobs fir which I felt highly qualified, without even a phone interview. I got to unload a bit with the career counselor. He handled it well. His calmness calmed me. He reminded me it was not personal….but the result of electronic review. He said “We just have to get your resume past the system and in the hands of people.” Which is a matter of having just the right keywords to put you over their limits. I had paid attention to that with my resume, but he said we just needed to tweak them a bit. So we will tweak. Again.

This morning I got another email about one if the jobs I got a rejection for last week. This one was “Congratulations! You have the skill set we are looking for. Please sign up for a telephone interview for this job.” I actually got two of these emails for that same job. From different people. The job already in the reject pile. I guess in an electronic world anything can happen. I almost signed up for the two phone interviews in case I bombed on one. But I didn’t. I figured that one would have to do.

The career counselor is also looking at my Linked In account. That’s important these days. I had ignored most of the suggestions their branding specialist had already shared with me a few weeks ago and had to confess this to him. Mostly I ignored them because I didn’t want to do them. Especially recommendations. I have a difficult time asking for certain things and one is for people to write recommendations for me. It’s asking “Will you please say nice things about me in a public forum that I’m going to be able to see?” Goes against my grain. Plus I know some people hate to be asked and you never really know who those people are. But I needed them.

I was having a conversation with a friend checking in to see how things were going, who is also an insurance company rep, over the weekend and asked her if she would do one for me. Her enthusiasm helped tremendously. She did it right away (late on a Saturday night). She didn’t mind doing it at all. It gave me that last bit of confidence I needed to ask others. I started with a few people who came to mind because they had offered their help if I needed it. I emailed to make it a bit easier for them to say no or ignore. It was gratifying to get a couple of great responses immediately. And humbling. I will admit their words made me a bit tearful. That task I totally didn’t want to do, resulted in making my day.

I still haven’t put myself on that regular schedule a couple of my friends recommended, though I do agree it would be a good thing. Overall I believe I’m doing what I need to do, however. A lot of time is spent perusing job boards and websites and applying for jobs. Sometimes it seems fruitless….you can comb the same board for an hour and find nothing, then something will pop up from that one more keyword search you do that is one letter different than the previous one. There aren’t a lot of jobs I want to apply for, and yet I don’t want to be too hasty to rule some out. I do know what I like to do and what my strengths are, and also what I don’t want, so I try to match the jobs to those things.

My goal is just one significant thing done a day that may put me closer to finding something (today it was asking for those job recommendations and signing up for that telephone interview. Yes, you do that online these days through a scheduler. You don’t talk to real people for the first part of the process.)

I do not subscribe to the theory that your job when you don’t have a job is to spend all your time job hunting. It would make me nuts. I look for some time each week to spend with friends, especially friends I haven’t seen in a while. I also make time to do something for someone else so I don’t get too self-absorbed. Today I made a last minute decision to go to Winston to give platelets. As with much that I do, it wasn’t much of a sacrifice….it was nice to sit in a comfy chair for a couple of hours and watch a movie and get a snack afterward. Platelets are used for things like cancer treatment, which several folks I know are receiving now. Giving them is a reminder that there are way worse things than being without a job.

While I do try to make my days count, there are days when I don’t get dressed and after a bit of job hunting I read a novel and take a nap. It’s OK. Balance.

I’d love to take a vacation, and go somewhere exotic, but I don’t feel comfortable doing it yet. My barriers are the work ethic engrained in me that won’t relax until I find a job and the fiscally conservative side of me that wants a regular paycheck. I’d like to abandon all and just do it and am trying to talk myself into it. The adventurous side of me is in favor. But the rest of me is not there yet. Maybe later.

So that is where I am, six weeks without a job. The roller coaster ride continues. Thanks to those joining me on the journey.

That Critical Spirit

I’m naturally critical. The trait is strong on both sides of my family and it can be my greatest asset or my greatest weakness. It’s a gift to know that about yourself. It gives you the ability to watch for it and make choices. Being critical by nature usually means your choices come after weighing the positives and the negatives and implications of each next movement. Well, if you were taught to use it that way. My choice is to increase the critical side that’s an asset to me and others and to decrease using it to harp on faults. Sometimes I succeed.

It’s interesting to me that when we use the word “criticism” to talk about art or music or writing, it usually includes the good and the bad. There is some balance. If there is not balance, we become a bit suspicious. When we use criticism to reference people, we almost always take the good away. We focus on the bad. But criticism doesn’t always have to be negative. It’s wrong that we have reduced it to that level.

I know some who will say they’re not the critical type and yet they seem to eviscerate those around them, either with syrupy praise that is untrue (and not what they will say behind the person’s back) or with lightly veiled cutting comments that slam through a passive-aggressive facade. They criticize internally and it can’t help but come out, with subtle but deadly consequences. Let’s face it…..all thinking people are critical. If you refuse to deal with this part of your nature, know that some of us may be on to you….even if we keep that information to ourselves. You’re not as subtle as you think.

But we must handle people with care. I once tried to explain to someone in my life, whom I both love and respect, that when they criticize me the words have an impact a hundred times greater than those of any other “normal person.” I can mull their words over like I do the criticism of others, but I can’t do it without sieving it through strong emotion. When someone else tells me something negative I can brush it off after a while, and analyze whether I agree, but when it is one of “my people” it can set off a major internal emotional meltdown. Agree or not, it’s difficult for me to put it in proper perspective. In other words, it’s not always helpful. especially when it happens often.

Criticism should always be true. And not cheap. We’re all flattered by untruths on a regular basis, and probably cheaply flatter a few folks ourselves. That’s not a horrible wrong….some days it does lift spirits.

But what if, instead of just flattering or pointing out flaws, we critically survey someone and come up with truthful wonders about who they are. What if that is our focus? What if we breathe that into them? What if we enhance the positive so much it expands and the negative contracts?

I’m not naive and I don’t believe we never point out the negative. (Those who know me are shaking their head in agreement. Or laughing.) If we really care about people, and know we must do this, we should first ask ourselves “Am I committed to the good of this person?”, “Am I willing to put myself out there to help if they request it?”, and “Is this more about them, or more about me?” You learn a lot about yourself asking those questions.

Yes, I am critical by nature. At times it has hurt people. Some have told me, others I know because I have sensed it has, and I suspect some I don’t know about because they have secretly held onto it unnecessarily and let it negatively fester in them. Or just blew it off as chaff.

But other times, hopefully most times, I have reminded them of the things I celebrate about them….and things they should celebrate about themselves…or my words have shown something that will help them be their best self. Many have done the same for me.

As much as I talk, I’m a good listener. If you look at most of our world through negative glasses, and try to make me jump on that train, I will choose to ignore you and much of what you say. I must do that so I don’t let the negative side of my nature increase. You have a bad habit that is easily contagious.

But if you care about me and others, have a balanced view, and we’ve got that “iron sharpening iron” type of relationship….your words are gold. I will cherish your criticism, good and bad. That still does not mean I will agree with it, but I will consider it. Because you love someone, or admire them, or respect them and crave their opinion….they’re not always right. Or their take on something isn’t always right for you. The best relationships are those when opinions are offered, but there are no hurt feelings if they don’t adopt yours.

I have been the recipient of some very kind and helpful negative criticism, delivered in love. It left me affirmed and energized and clear-headed. Not devastated and feeling insecure. That’s as it should be.

Since I know my critical nature is not going to leave me, and really don’t want it to, my goal is that my words would be delivered so they are wings and not a ball and chain. Let my words always be spoken for the good of those who surround me. Criticism can give life instead of stabbing a heart out.

The rule in carving holds good as to criticism; never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon.” – Charles Buxton

“When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.”
– Judith Martin

“Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.”  Marvin J. Ashton

Just Say Nope

My friend Amy told us to tell her story, and since I always do what I am told, here it goes. So OK, I’m not usually good about doing what I am told, but in this case my friend has been on an important journey, has gone through it with the perfect boldness of a warrior, and has tossed out a lot of love and understanding to others along the way. She plans to continue. She tells her story  far better than me, but truly it can’t be told too much or through too many sets of eyes.

Somewhere out on Facebook you can find a picture of my friend Amy’s bare breasts. They are there with her permission. It is a picture of truth, of power, and even illusion. It is a picture of a real life journey.

Amy was diagnosed with cancer last February. She was “lucky”. She had “the best kind”. (Insert eye roll here.)

In one of those “only us” moments, I had the Gracie Foundation send her a care package. This is a charity that sends little gifts of encouragement to women undergoing cancer treatment. I’ve known of them for a while and sent a few gifts to women over the years. Nice idea, huh?

So Amy gets her gift and looks them up online and reads the biography of the founder. She messaged me “Did you know about the woman who started this organization?” I did, but had not read her story for a long while. I’d forgotten the specifics. She was a local lady and while I didn’t know her personally many of my friends and family did. So I had somewhat followed her story over the years, but from a distance.

It turnd out that she had the exact same kind of cancer as Amy. She elected to have a bi-lateral mastectomy anyway (as Amy did). And like Amy she was told the statistic that only 2% of women die from this cancer. But Gracie (Gail Germain) was that 2%. She died in 2015.

Pretty encouraging for my friend, huh? Ground swallow me up now. As I said, “only us” moments.  Yep….only I would choose that particular way to boost her spirits and it have that sort of twist. And only Amy would have a friend who would send her straight to a story of a negative outcome of her “good” type of cancer. But Amy said it was a reminder that she was going to always have to be vigilant. One thing I believe…. that should be a truth for us all.

We need to pay attention to our bodies. We need to take it seriously when we just don’t feel “right”. We need to feel for lumps, watch moles, notice changes in our body, and we need to talk about it.  Show and tell. All of it. Even when it is embarrassing. That is how we learn. That is how we get diagnosed quicker.

Amy shared every step of the journey. When she was diagnosed, when she decided to have the double mastectomy (and why she went a route others felt was perhaps extreme), when she chose her surgeons, when she had her surgery, when she was recovering, when she had her reconstruction, and down to when she had her nipples tattooed. At times her story was graphic…because Amy’s not afraid of graphic and knows people need to pay attention. At times it was difficult and painful, emotionally and physically. And at times it was funny….because Amy always brings the funny. But she needed her cancer to have a purpose. Because she was open, she has been able to talk with other women going through the same thing. She has been able to teach someone like me what it looks like and feels like and where a mind goes throughout the process. If I don’t need the information myself (and I know it could happen), I’ll possibly be able to help someone else.

I think the lesson is this….don’t be a “c word” person. Say the words. It’s cancer. Speak up and talk about it. If you have had cancer, tell your story. Don’t let it consume you…. you’re more than a cancer survivor and you have a great life to live….but also when it comes up in a conversation don’t be afraid to speak up. Your story can save lives. Even if you think “it wasn’t as bad as some” or “it’s personal” or “no one wants to hear about my medical problems.”

It stuns me when I hear stories like the one where 13 doctors were seen before a young woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When I find that people think breast cancer is a woman’s disease (men can get it, too.) When colon cancer isn’t diagnosed because people are afraid to tell their doctor what is going on with their body. When the idea of a colonoscopy, a mammogram, or a PSA exam freaks someone out to the point that they are scared to get them. Tell a friend. Go scared. Be embarrassed. Whatever it takes. Tackle it head on. Fight. For you….and for everyone else. Be persistent. If you know something is not right, trust your instincts and yell bloody murder until some medical professional pays attention and figures it out.

Amy shared all the stages and even let her pictures be used to show other women the difference a couple of tattooes can make. She told her story, the good, the bad, the ugly….and the beautiful. And she told us to tell her story…so some of you will stop running scared and face what you need to face.

As Amy says, just say nope….to cancer or anything else trying to bring you down. Don’t let it win. We need you. My precious friend did not volunteer to get cancer, but is determined God will use it for good in the world. And by the way…..there is no good cancer. Let’s get rid of that fallacy. It’s all the enemy…..and a vicious one. It can sneak up and take your life quickly. Stand guard. Be vigilant. Always.


My friends Amy and Ursula…..both survivors. Both saying “Nope.”



The Weed

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.”:- Doug Larson

A weed is no more than a flower in disguise. Which is seen through at once, if love give a man eyes.”  – James Russell Lowell

6624DA8B-2F55-4EF7-9099-78EE5C14D3B5Some call it a weed. I call it a flower. I know people who do everything they can to get rid of them. I leave them alone and love seeing them spread. They make me smile. I would cultivate them if I could. Some would say I do. I find them beautiful and I like them in my yard. I know at least some of my neighbors hate them and don’t like that they share themselves with them. I mourn when lawnmowing takes them away.

Dandelions go from strong to fragile. But even when the petals turn to fluff, that stem is tough. You can pull it out, but chances are it will come back. Oh yes, chemicals can kill it. Throw enough on it, and it will be gone.

Kinda like people. I find my heart isn’t usually captured by the “perfect”. Oh, I appreciate their beauty and brilliance, but I find it is often something I can best appreciate from a distance. Much character comes from struggling a bit. Or a lot.

I love the dandelion people best. Strong one day, fragile the next. Unable to hide either state. Looking like they are set to shatter, but then in no time they grow back again, strong and colorful. They are usually out there on display, wherever they may be in their lives.

Throw enough killing chemicals on them, though, and yes you may get rid of them. Hate, hurtful words, judgment, a total misunderstanding of who they are, condemnation of the dumb and careless things they do. (That we all do, if we were to be honest and transparent.) These things poison not just the person for a moment, but can poison generations through their influence. You may want them extinct because they do not meet your standards of perfection. Or the idea of perfection you have cultivated in your life.

I know plenty of people who are lawn proud. I have to marvel at the perfection, and the energy they put into getting it there, but my lawn will never be like theirs. Not only do I love the wild flowers that others call weeds, I dislike chemicals. And yeah, I won’t spend my life working for the chiseled and manicured look. There are other ways I prefer to spend my days.

I hope I am the same way with people. I hope I see the flowers in the weeds and not only recognize the beauty, but the strength. I hope I help them see it in themselves too. Sometimes that comes from dropping a bit of our own perfection, so they know the flawed beings we are underneath. Just like them.

Dandelions can be used as food (every part of them, in fact), and as medicine for all kinds of ailments. They can help add nutrients to the soil. They’re really quite the workhorse, growing, maturing, and dispersing to grow elsewhere.  Qualities that, in people, make the best kinds of friends.

My dandelion people add such great things to the world. They are tough at the core and naturally spread themselves around. They don’t isolate, but scatter. They don’t give up, but flower again and again and again. Most of the good change in this world comes from dandelion people. Their resilience will change the landscape.

I’m not knocking the hothouse rose or the rare orchid. I love flowers of all kinds. I  marvel at them and find them exquisite and awe-inspiring. I love to stare at them and treasure them. But if I have to keep them alive for long, it makes me nervous. I was not created for complicated gardening. I need plants that can survive me. I need those kind of people, too. I have not yet mastered perfection on any level. But I am resilient. At this point in my life I treasure this resiliency. The human spirit has an amazing capacity to regroup and recover and go on, stronger and more beautiful. We’ve got the tenacity of weeds, but the beauty of the flower.

What would become of the garden if the gardener treated all the weeds and slugs and birds and trespassers as he would like to be treated, if he were in their place?”
– Thomas Henry Huxley

“A weed is a plant that is not only in the wrong place, but intends to stay.” –  Sara Stein

Thoughts on Life and Living

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I agree with RLS….though with a twist…..

“The (wo)man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent (wo)men and the love of children; who has filled (her/)his niche and accomplished (her/)his task; who leaves the world better than (s)he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best (s)he had.”

Robert Louis Stevenson